Conserving Nigeria’s Wetlands For Improved Food Production

Opinion

By Martins Abocho

Nigeria is one of the countries in the world richly endowed with both coastal and inland wetlands, while the country’s food supply shortages are met through wetland production. Internationally, 11 wetlands are recognised in Nigeria, while altogether wetland covers about three per cent of the country’s land surface.

Experts say that wetland contributes about 56 per cent of the country’s food supply, while upland and other domestic production contribute 33. 4 and 10.3 per cent respectively.

The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, defined wetland as: “ ‘Areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.”

Currently, there are 162 contracting parties to the convention, with 2,040 wetland sites, totaling 193 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Nigeria’s Niger Delta, is one of the most important wetlands in Nigeria, the largest in Africa and third largest in the world. Ironically, it was not listed among the eleven Ramsar sites in Nigeria.

The listed sites are – Apoi Creek Forest Reserve in Bayelsa, Upper Urasi forest in Rivers, Pandam/ Wase in Nasarawa and Baturiya Games Reserve in Kano.

Others are Dagona Sanctuary Lake in Yobe, Foge Island in Niger State, Lake Chad wetland in Borno, Lower Kaduna-Middle Niger flood plain in Niger, Maladumba Lake in Bauchi, Nguru Lake in Yobe and Oguta Lake in Imo.

Prof. Ojekunle Zaccheaus of the College of Environmental Resources Management, University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, said that Nigeria’s food supply shortages are met basically through wetland production.

The freshwater swamp portion of the wetland is estimated to be over one million hectares while the mangrove swamp is put at about 858,000 hectares.

The fresh wetlands are Niger Delta, River Niger , River Benue, Cross River, Imo River, Ogun-Osun River, and Lake Chad.

It is in recognition of the importance of wetlands to food production that the UN set aside Feb.2 of every year as World Wetland Day. The theme for 2014 is “Wetlands and Agriculture as Partners for Growth.”

Mr Shehu Ndaman, Wetlands Focal Officer in the Federal Ministry of Environment, said the 11 designated wetlands would attract both national and international support for a sustainable exploration of resources within the sites.

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According to him, the 11sites met the standards as set by the Ramsar Convention on wetlands conservation.

Mr Patrick Ukura, a consultant on environment issues, said that agriculture and water are inseparable. According to him, wetlands are sources of water for even dry season farming.

He bemoaned the depletion of wetlands through human and industrial activities. “Wetlands are sites of scientific importance which are natural gifts to a nation. Their importance to the sustainability of our coastal environment especially in the area of ecological preservation cannot be over-emphasised.

“We have been advocating to the Ministry of Environment to develop a data on them so that we will be able to have information on the kinds of resources available in each of them.

“It can be difficult to develop a conservation plan when information about the status of the wetland sites is not available.”

Mr Joseph Ademola, an agro-climatologist said that water source is key to farming, and wetlands are fundamental resources for farming and can serve other agricultural purposes.

He noted that the sensitisation on wetlands and agriculture will go a long way in conservation of wetlands and its protection against further distortion and depletion by human activities.

Dr Yakubu Tor-Agbidye, Head, Department of Agriculture, Federal University of Wukari, Taraba wants the government to maximise the potential of wetlands in Nigeria.

According to him, wetlands could serve the full purpose of family farming and even for the mechanised agriculture.

Experts have identified the potential of wetlands as well as listed wetlands in Nigeria, besides the 11 internationally recognised ones.

Stakeholders should ensure that more sites are listed, especially the Niger Delta in order to get the desired attention.

•Abochol wrote this article for the News Agency of Nigeria.